Tips on how to battle car-centric tradition

Individuals usually pleasure themselves on being good, secure drivers. But one thing is significantly mistaken on American streets.

In 2021, visitors deaths reached a 16-year excessive(opens in a brand new tab), with 42,939 deaths reported(opens in a brand new tab). Fatalities had been up in a number of classes year-over-year, together with amongst pedestrians, cyclists, aged drivers, and motorcyclists, and there have been extra crashes on city roads and in the course of the daytime. Total deaths decreased barely in 2022(opens in a brand new tab), however a brand new report from the Governors Freeway Security Affiliation(opens in a brand new tab) estimates that no less than 7,508 pedestrians had been hit and killed all year long — the best quantity since 1981. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has known as worsening visitors security(opens in a brand new tab) “a disaster on America’s roadways.”

If fixing this downside seems like an not possible process not meant for the typical individual, there are a number of high-profile social media teams and content material creators who’d wish to persuade you in any other case. They wish to aid you perceive why streets are so harmful, how they could possibly be made secure for all, and what you are able to do to enhance them in your neighborhood. Their techniques and options aren’t all the time the identical, however all of them specific alarm over car-centric tradition whereas insisting that this “disaster” could be conquered by designing streets round our collective well-being as an alternative of automotive comfort, and by making it as laborious as attainable for folks to drive recklessly.

There’s Mr. Barricade(opens in a brand new tab), a mustachioed civil transportation engineer who alternately explains(opens in a brand new tab) and criticizes(opens in a brand new tab) parts of visitors design to his 1.8 million TikTok followers. Not Simply Bikes(opens in a brand new tab), a YouTube account with greater than one million subscribers, posts prolonged movies about city planning and walkable cities that routinely notch thousands and thousands of views. The personal Fb group New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teenagers(opens in a brand new tab) (NUMTOT) makes a speciality of mixing city planning coverage options with humorous or biting takes on automotive tradition for its 229,000 members. On the Conflict on Vehicles podcast(opens in a brand new tab), which is backed by almost 2,100 folks on Patreon(opens in a brand new tab), the present’s three hosts “battle to undo a century’s value of harm wrought by the auto.”


Why the pedestrian dignity motion ought to be your subsequent accessibility trigger

Whereas these creators have been round for just a few years or extra, Conflict on Vehicles co-host Sarah Goodyear has observed latest rising curiosity in making American streets safer and extra walkable. Goodyear, a journalist who’s lined city planning and visitors security since 2006, says this curiosity is partly due to a decade of advocacy in cities, the place grassroots organizers pressed lawmakers to reply for — and forestall — pedestrian and bike owner deaths. It additionally displays the local weather motion’s work to attach automotive tradition with a worse future for the planet. And, unexpectedly, the pandemic supplied a disturbing distinction between the relative calm of much less visitors throughout lockdowns and the spike in fatalities when folks obtained behind the wheel, typically burdened and typically intoxicated(opens in a brand new tab).

Goodyear says the rise of social media over the previous 15 years has made it notably simpler, and extra enjoyable, to debate visitors security in bite-size parts of content material, like memes, TikToks, and YouTube movies. On the identical time, it’s given skeptics of car-centric tradition instruments to attach with like-minded individuals who would possibly in any other case really feel like they’re alone in a large, shedding battle.

“As soon as the automotive blindness has been lifted for you, you may’t unsee vehicles as all of the issues they’re: huge, noisy, harmful, fossil fuel-emitting, costly, and cumbersome,” says Goodyear.

Come for the memes, keep for the dialog

When Vignesh Swaminathan, aka Mr. Barricade, launched his TikTok account in 2020, he discovered algorithmic success. Swaminathan runs the civil engineering agency Crossroad Lab(opens in a brand new tab) in San Jose, California, which designs and constructs transportation tasks throughout the state. Which means he’s often on web site, prepared to show an intersection into his TikTok classroom or dance ground. His performances are sometimes set to rap and lure music, and his on-the-scene analyses of visitors design parts usually function interchanges, alerts, crosswalks, bike lanes, drainage ditches, and overpasses. Swaminathan makes use of TikTok particularly to have interaction the typical individual.

“If all people’s scrolling anyway, why can’t I convey the outreach to them?” he says.

Swaminathan is especially focused on participating people who find themselves new to the subject and don’t know tips on how to pursue change, and those that are “completely disconnected” from the civic course of as a result of they don’t belief the federal government, stay in marginalized or uncared for neighborhoods, are undocumented, or can’t take part due to boundaries like language or incapacity. Individuals in these teams, he says, are “studying, turning into conscious, and beginning to determine what they need.” Swaminathan’s visitors planning and security movies are supposed to spotlight improved design parts, like protected intersections(opens in a brand new tab) and pace humps(opens in a brand new tab), that calm visitors and safeguard cyclists and pedestrians.

However the path to turning into a TikTok star for Swaminathan, who’s Indian American, additionally included a torrent of racist feedback and memes utilizing his picture. To cease the onslaught, Swaminathan invited his followers to drown out offensive content material with their very own traffic-related memes. His followers confirmed up within the feedback with anti-racist responses in addition to dance movies in entrance of visitors indicators, drainage ditches, and pedestrian bridges. Swaminathan says the nerdy visitors engineering jokes eclipsed the racist assaults, however the latter nonetheless floor in his feedback.

“Lots of people genuinely come for the memes and keep for the conversations.”

– Emily Orenstein, co-founder, New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teenagers

Swaminathan and his distinctive neighborhood of loyalists make visitors security and design really feel accessible and dynamic, even entertaining. Different influencers and teams use humor to their benefit, too. Within the Fb group New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teenagers(opens in a brand new tab) (NUMTOT), co-founder Emily Orenstein says that there’s appreciable overlap between educating members, debating options, and posting foolish issues, like turning a photograph of kids within the Fifties utilizing a pulley system to cross a river(opens in a brand new tab) right into a public transit joke. In additional severe posts, members typically talk about “alternate futures” to the present established order the place vehicles dominate and pollute U.S. streets.

“Lots of people genuinely come for the memes and keep for the conversations,” says Orenstein.

After all, on-line exchanges about vehicles, security, and coverage can change into charged relying on whether or not the contributors wish to dramatically cut back the variety of vehicles on the highway or consider it’s attainable to design our approach out of car-centric tradition and reckless driving. Within the subreddit diplomatically known as Fuckcars(opens in a brand new tab), moderators acknowledge the hard-to-discuss nuances on this debate, together with that some folks would possibly love vehicles as lovely machines however hate “car-focused” infrastructure.

Goodyear says that the range of on-line accounts and teams is important: “What we want is systemic change, and also you don’t get systemic change with one type of activism, in a method, with one neighborhood or one technique, on one platform.”

Turning on-line conversations into actual change

Activists say that channeling on-line curiosity and anger about car-centric coverage can embody advocating for brand spanking new options in entrance of 1’s metropolis council, protesting lethal intersections, becoming a member of a traffic-related fee, taking part in public metropolis planning conferences, or exploring the legality of finishing up DIY security measures(opens in a brand new tab) like portray a crosswalk when the town refuses to offer one. Site visitors security teams exist in main cities throughout the U.S., together with San Francisco(opens in a brand new tab), Chicago(opens in a brand new tab), New York(opens in a brand new tab), Minneapolis(opens in a brand new tab), Denver(opens in a brand new tab), and Boston(opens in a brand new tab).

Nathan Allebach, a creator who focuses on tips on how to create walkable cities, says the net motion is policy-focused as a result of these options have the potential to be transformative, versus efforts that coax particular person drivers to do higher. In any case, Allebach says vehicles have a tendency to show even the nicest folks into callous drivers in the event that they’re late, burdened, or distracted, a fleeting or persistent superiority complicated the motion describes as “automotive mind(opens in a brand new tab).”

“Individuals understand this isn’t a problem that occurs to any person else — it’s all of us,” says Allebach.

In a single TikTok video considered 1.4 million occasions, Allebach spends simply shy of three minutes persuasively arguing for the revival of third locations, that are neighborhood gathering spots in walkable places which were largely decimated by car-centric city and suburban planning. One commenter lamented, “this makes me so unhappy,” to which Allebach replied, “I do know it may be discouraging, however the excellent news is that zoning/parking reforms are occurring throughout RIGHT now! A greater future is feasible.”

Goodyear says she’s heartened by the keenness Conflict on Vehicles listeners have for getting concerned by means of native activism and in one another’s advocacy campaigns.

“That, to me, is essentially the most thrilling factor,” she says. “I feel we’re a part of a very real, lively, tremendous engaged neighborhood.”

For Bryan Culbertson, an engineer in Oakland, California, watching dozens of Not Simply Bikes(opens in a brand new tab) movies helped form his visitors security activism. Final yr, Culbertson helped discovered Traffic Violence Rapid Response(opens in a new tab), a grassroots motion(opens in a brand new tab) that holds vigils for anybody killed by a automotive, protests at harmful intersections, and pressures metropolis officers for security enhancements. The group has 40-plus members and organizes by way of Sign and Slack. Thus far, they’ve efficiently lobbied the town’s transportation division and transit company to reassess the deadliest avenue within the metropolis, a serious highway the place drivers routinely pace by means of crosswalks, particularly close to bus stops.

Culbertson is optimistic that extra change is feasible.

“Should you speak to folks from the attitude of strolling round their neighborhood and what they need that have to be like, you’ll get a variety of settlement in eager to really feel secure, wanting their children to have the ability to journey a motorcycle, or simply be on the entrance garden with out the fixed nervousness of, ‘Perhaps they’ll run into the road,’” he says. “While you speak to folks about these experiences, you’ll discover out that most individuals are in your facet.”

Initially printed in January 2023, this story was up to date with new data in June 2023.